How can I stop my brother's drug habits?
July 13, 2008 3:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I confront my brother on his (illegal) drug habits in a way that will make him actually change them; and not just hide his habits from me/lose his trust in me.

I am 21 and my little brother is 17. My parents have been divorced since I was 16 and he was 12. I was little affected by it as it was all in all a good thing from my point of view (my parents fought every time they were in the same room as long as I can remember). After the divorce my brother moved in with our mom and I with our dad, but while I could drive and see whomever I wanted, he was confined to my mom's house and saw our very busy dad very very little.

Now that he is 17 and has grown up with practically no father figure in his life, he spends 90% of his time with his friends, and the rest of his time working out or at school. The problem is this- all of his friends and him are very habitual drug users, this includes coke, ecstasy, shrooms, acid, and of course lots and lots of alcohol. I know this because I used to do drugs on occasion (not anymore since seeing a lot of friends go down dark paths), and we used to talk about what we'd do. I was never habitual about any of it- I run a small business, go to school, get my work done, and have never been in trouble with any authority.

Last month he got a DUI after passing out at the wheel on the freeway and crashing into a sidewall at 3 AM (going 5 MPH with no passengers, but still far too stupid). He blew a .24, and he told me he was on ecstasy at the time as well. This means he will not have his license for a year at least, but he hasn't been to court yet so we're not sure about the final consequences. A week later he was arrested for being drunk underage at a rap concert. He has been looking for a job for forever but has not found one, does not seem to do anything productive with his time, and is still partying all the time with his friends.

My mom has no control over him, nor me, we never quite took her seriously because she yells about almost everything. My dad is good at keeping control but he is remarried and lives about an hour away and doesn't want to deal with my brother, I'm pretty sure he just wants him to turn 18 so he doesn't have to deal with him anymore. My brother is not an idiot, most of his friends are, but he just seems to have a twisted worldview when it comes to goals and authority. I know if I tell him to simply stop doing it I'll just become another authoritative enemy to him. so MeFi- how should I confront him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Where is he getting his money?
posted by dcjd at 3:35 PM on July 13, 2008

I'm guessing you are right - confronting him won't do any good. However, talk to him and see if any of this has scared him and/or made him think about changing. Tell him you love him and you are scared and when he is ready to change, you will do anything you can for him. If he seems a little shaken, then follow up with real stories about people you know who went down the drain.

I don't know how much you can do as a brother, but as a parent, I would be hoping for a court-mandated treatment program. They have some authority to enforce attendance (if not change) that your family doesn't. I would also contact the school just to see if they had any resources.

You might also want to see if Al-Anon has any helpful advice.
posted by metahawk at 3:39 PM on July 13, 2008

i doubt anything you can say will magically get him to see the error of his ways and reform; kids his age are so bound into their peer groups that very little else is stronger. probably the best thing you'll be able to do is to be there for him, always, try to hang out with him and be a good influence/set a good example, and encourage him to do things like plan for college and break the ties with the friends he's with.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:40 PM on July 13, 2008

Tell him that if he wants help, you'll help him. There's nothing you can do or say to get him to stop using drugs. Tell him you worry that he might die; it's true, and it'll matter more than other things you might say.

It's possible that he doesn't have a lot of hope, that he doesn't enjoy life when he's sober. Even if he quit drugs, he'd be left with those problems to solve. That would explain why he doesn't want to stop using.

My brother had a serious drug problem for many years, though he hasn't used any drugs or alcohol for a decade now. It was terrible to watch him waste his life, deteriorate physically, get arrested, get kicked out of rehab (on purpose) again and again. When his son was a total stoner in high school, there was nothing my brother or anyone else could do. My nephew got serious about stopping only after his best friend flipped a car and killed his passenger -- and then a month later the friend lost a kidney after another car accident.

I'm sorry -- you can't make your brother stop. But you can make yourself available if he wants to talk about underlying problems, including the fact that his father ignores him.
posted by wryly at 3:40 PM on July 13, 2008

I think the first thing to say is that, short of incarceration, it is virtually impossible to make someone with a substance abuse problem stop unless they have some desire to. I've had close friends and family choose the path of continual abuse despite all efforts to try and help them. Personally, I think the best you can do is to try and develop a relationship with your brother that will allow you to speak honestly to him about the things he is doing. You don't need to lecture to him, just talk to him and listen to what he has to say. Make sure he knows that you're there for him.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 3:41 PM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Echoing the comment that you cannot change his substance abuse patterns -- all you can do is keep the lines of communication open. Seconding Al-Anon, not only for your own support, but so that you understand the options available should he want to change.
posted by mozhet at 4:12 PM on July 13, 2008

If you don't know, we don't. It sounds like his drug habits are more having-fun than addict. Most states now take an extremely dim view of underage DUI, and the state's attorney can easily let him know what this would be if he was an adult.

I was persuaded to use fewer drugs when it became clear how boring they make you. Just like old narcissist hippies.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:17 PM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

There may come a day when you can be of help to him, but it will probably be when you're sick-and-tired-of-all-his-shit-by-now-and-he-dug-his-own-damn-grave-so-go-to-hell, bro.

Don't ask me how I know.

Today, you can't help him. One of the things about being a seventeen year old boy is that sometimes it exactly resembles drug dependency. So maybe he'll grow out of it.

If not, he's gotta hit his head off the toilet seat a few times before he can even ask for help.

When he does, maybe you can be there for him. But not if you burn out your soul worrying about him in the meantime. Treat him like a brother. If he does something stupid, rebuke him. If not, appreciate him. Hope that his good heart will prevail and he'll come out of all this a good man.

Cuz he probably will.
posted by stubby phillips at 4:21 PM on July 13, 2008

Do talk to him, emphasizing the loving messages spoken of above.

As well, (and consider deeply beforehand whether you truly are willing to put your time and self into it) your brother would benefit by you saying something like: "I want to spend more time with you, and I think you'd like hanging with me more. Not only would I get to enjoy having you in my life more, but [a grin] I'm also something else to do besides drug and drive that you can do without your friends laughing their ass off at you."

That's awkwardly worded, but you get the drift. He needs a good excuse to say "no". His status with his peers drops when he admits what would be seen as a weakness.

I've a lot of admiration for you for; your brother's a lucky guy.
posted by reflecked at 4:27 PM on July 13, 2008

Get out of his way like you would an oncoming train. Hide your wallet, car keys, valuables. Keep your doors locked. Be supportive, but never bail him out or rescue him. He has not hit bottom yet and as heartless as it may sound you must get out of the way. Just do it, don't try to rationalize or reason with him. Sorry, that is all I can offer.
posted by cvoixjames at 4:28 PM on July 13, 2008

Your predicament is similar to one in which I found myself several years ago. My younger sister was getting involved with using a lot of drugs, driving drunk, hanging around with pond scum-types. When it was time for her to graduate from high school, my mother asked me if I could take her on a trip and have a heart-to-heart with her because she thought I was the only one who would be able talk some sense into her. (Incidentally, you probably should disregard this comment for the time being.) It didn't go well. I did it when the trip was almost over and she seemed to be in a positive, mellow mood. She didn't get upset with me for doing it, but she did think I was being "lame" and it was none of my business. She stopped confiding in me because she thought I'd judge her. She didn't quit using drugs until she got arrested for possession and found a great boyfriend (now husband) who made her want to be a better person. She's an amazing woman now and is a wholly different person than she was during that dark time.

So I don't think there's anything you, as a brother, can say that will help the situation. He has to discover for himself that there are other ways of living and enjoying life that are less destructive and more gratifying. Let your life be an example.
posted by HotPatatta at 4:32 PM on July 13, 2008

Get out of his way like you would an oncoming train. Hide your wallet, car keys, valuables. Keep your doors locked. Be supportive, but never bail him out or rescue him. He has not hit bottom yet and as heartless as it may sound you must get out of the way. Just do it, don't try to rationalize or reason with him. Sorry, that is all I can offer.

Agreed. But always make yourself available to listen.
posted by HotPatatta at 4:34 PM on July 13, 2008

You might start by visiting the Web site for the excellent HBO "Addiction" series, and learning to understand addiction. In particular, the section on Adolescent Addiction would be particularly relevant, even if you don't initial believe your brother is an addict. You could also learn about some of the old myths of addiction and substance abuse treatment, including the theory that a substance abuser must hit "rock bottom" before they can be effectively helped:
"There are two main misconceptions that really drive me crazy when it comes to addictions," says Dr. Kathleen Brady, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. "One of them is this whole idea that an individual needs to reach rock bottom before they can get any help. That is absolutely wrong. There is no evidence that that's true. In fact, quite the contrary. The earlier in the addiction process that you can intervene and get someone help, the more they have to live for. The more they have to get better for."

The other big myth, says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the federal government's National Institute on Drug Abuse, is that you have to want to be treated in order to get better. Even as an internationally respected researcher, she once believed that to be true, Volkow says, but she knows now that people who are forced into treatment do recover. Addicted people may be pushed to enter a treatment program by an employer, a companion or the criminal justice system. Employers may threaten to fire a person unless treated; a spouse may threaten to leave the relationship, or the court may offer treatment in lieu of prison. (In this case, people convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes may go through specialized alternative courts, called drug courts, in which they can reduce their sentence or avoid jail altogether by getting intensive addiction treatment.) In fact, research has shown that the outcomes for those who are legally mandated to enter treatment can be as good as the outcomes for those who entered treatment voluntarily.
You could also learn about an alternative to intervention called CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training), which might be of value in your fractured family situation.
posted by paulsc at 5:37 PM on July 13, 2008

Echoing what everyone else here has said:
* You cannot help someone who does not want to help himself.
* Let your brother know that you love him and will be there to listen. Do not lend him money.
* There's no way to know if he's truly an addict or just in the "dumb kid" stage. If he steals from you, you'll know.
* Addicts say over and over that they want to clean up and get a job and so on. Eventually some of them make it, but don't be fooled by what they say.

One of the biggest things for an addict is to get out of the environment that contributes to their addiction. It might help for your brother to move to a different area (geographically and culturally) and make new friends.
posted by cnc at 6:09 PM on July 13, 2008

You mention that he has never found a job; your first step should be to find out where he's been getting his money, and cut it off (hopefully anonymously) at the source. Is it his mom? Is she aware of his problems? Does she know that she's buying his drugs?

The worst scenario resulting from financial cutoff would be an increased urge on his part to actually get a job. Which might eventually lead to new, better contacts and an interest in things other than drugs.

It hurts to have a family member who is dependent or otherwise messed up. My sister's not into drugs AFAIK, but she doesn't have her shit together and used to call for money. Sometimes it sounded legit, like rent owed and such. We always, invariably, said no. We were always glad we did because we'd usually find out later that she'd got the money from someone else and spent it, say, on candy or hand lotion. Not rent. I was always glad that my only involvement had been to offer a different kind of help - say, drafting a letter to her landlord - that cost me nothing but showed my support.

So when you say you'll always be there for him, make sure he knows it's not financially.
posted by GardenGal at 6:09 PM on July 13, 2008

Consider showing him this post. Seriously. Understanding that you take him, as a person, this seriously and want this badly to see him have a great life might have a profound impact. People who reject habitually reject authority have all that much greater an appreciation for when someone shows them what people are actually saying/thinking about them - I think if you showed him this page and just leveled with him it would have far more impact than any artificially constructed speech.
posted by Ryvar at 6:42 PM on July 13, 2008

Timothy Jason Bailey

Sinks Grove-Timothy Jason Bailey, 25, passed away Saturday, Mar. 19, 2005, after a short Illness.

Born Apr. 21, 1979, in Union, he was the son of Richard O. Bailey of Sinks Grove and Kay Halstead of Americus, GA.

Mr. Bailey was a lifelong resident of Monroe County and a 1997 graduate of James Monroe High School. T.J. excelled in sports, lettering in football and baseball, was an avid outdoorsman, and loved fishing and hunting. He was employed by Longi Construction as a carpenter.

He was preceded in death by: his paternal grandfather, Frank R. Bailey and maternal grandparents, Jim and Billie Halstead.

Survivors include: his parents, Rick Bailey of Sinks Grove and Kay Halstead of Americus, GA; two brothers, Christopher S. Bailey and Brad M. Bailey both of Sinks Grove; paternal grandmother, Janie Bailey of Sinks Grove; maternal great-grandmother, Cathie Smith of Americus, GA; special companion, Debra Helms of Gap Mills; and a host of uncles, aunts, cousins and many, many friends,

Funeral services were held Wednesday, Mar. 23 at the Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church, Sinks Grove, where Dr. Dexter Taylor and Rev. David Warf officiated.

Burial was in the New Lebanon Cemetery, Pickaway.

Longanacre Funeral Home, Fort Spring, was in charge of the arrangements.

**NOTE: The "short illness" was a drug overdose. Show this to your brother.
posted by wv kay in ga at 6:58 PM on July 13, 2008

I'm soft on drugs, and appreciate that a guy has to have some fun. I also don't find, for your purposes, your brothers age need enter in to any discussion, as it is condescending.

I'll just offer my notions from the view that there is no real addiction here. There is a problem, that's clear, but lets not make silly and negative assumptions.

People party! And from around 17 until some time in the 20's, people tend to party seriously hard. There is nothing wrong with having a good time. There is nothing wrong with having some drugs, or having some alcohol. If you can't operate from that premise, you're not going to do much to help. Doubtless he's heard the "Don't drink or drug" message already, to little or no effect. Duh. It's good advice not to mix the two. (in the golden era of raves, drinking was entirely forbidden, doncha know).

Where things get problematic is when it's all you do, or when you drink and/or drug and get behind the wheel of a car. It's childish, and it prevents one from having a good time (ie, driving).

Getting drunk all the time is also stupid. It's not healthy, it messes with the sex life and your head. And alcohol can become a very nasty addiction. Chill! Smoke some dope instead. But damn, do make a point to spend some time sober. There's this thing called "life" that requires some sober dealing, and if you neglect that, you're fucked, maybe for life.

Party hardy, and party smart. Don't mix alcohol and drugs. (most of the time, alcohol detracts from a good drug experience anyway) Don't drive when you're messed up. Don't get messed up in situations where you're likely to have trouble from it. Bending your mind is lots more fun when you do it where there aren't any hassles.

A useful guideline on partying is a very simple one: Expect to wake up the next day and get your brain functioning. If you can't clear your head the day after, you did something wrong. It takes a clear head to deal with a lot of the crap in life that you have to deal with in order to be able to continue having a good time. Get the crap out of the way. Doing so makes party time a lot more fun anyway.
posted by Goofyy at 10:09 PM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

My brother is not an idiot, most of his friends are

It's a safe bet his friend's families feel the same way about their (brother/son/whatever), and comfortably put your brother in the category of "idiot friend". Just sayin'.
posted by the bricabrac man at 12:33 PM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

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